The Old Woman and the Cat (Akka ja kissa)

by Michael
(London, UK)

The Old Woman and the Cat (Akka ja kissa) (1885) is a painting that I like very much and not just because it has a cat in it!

It was painted by a Finnish artist who was much revered in his time in Finland. He is Akseli Gallen-Kallela (26 April 1865 – 7 March 1931). I think that this was a two way love affair because his inspiration came from Finland and it seems practically no where else.

The painting is about 47 inches tall, so quite large (121 centimetres). It is of an old sheep woman. It was painted when Gallen-Kallela was 20 years old, still young. His father didn’t want him to be a painter but his father died when his was 14 and from then on he pursued his passion. It must have been obvious that he had real talent at aged 14 even.

I like it because:

  • it is very real
  • the accuracy and technical ability conveys to me the reality of that moment (but see below – this was not painted in situ)
  • I can feel what it was like at that time for this women
  • the sheer technical achievement has, for me created, art
  • I can tell what type of cat it is!

It is a very uncompromising picture. No punches are pulled and it is not glossed up to be acceptable to the subject or the people of the area who I presume saw it (perhaps not).

Gallen-Kallela (see picture adjacent) describes the lady as a “rustic being” with calloused hands and feet. It was this that interested him I suspect. The old lady is feeding the cat. But with what! It looks like she is tossing some food scraps to the ground. The pieces of food look light coloured. Perhaps some scraps of raw lamb or sheep! (but these aren’t light coloured). Perhaps fat therefore?

Apparently it was painted in the summer of 1885 in Salo, Finland. The woman was a local person. He half finished the painting and added the cat later when in Helsinki and then added the landscape background from sketches of a different place. Artistic license we call that!

So the cat was not actually with the old lady and perhaps not even being fed by her. Perhaps the cat lived with Gallen-Kallela or he simply saw it in the street in Helsinki (a stray cat).

The cat is a mackerel tabby moggie (mixed breed cat and see cat coats tabby – new window). It is very dark tabby cat and not that well painted, dare I say. Well, correction, the stripes are a bit too high in contrast and sharply defined, I think but the pensive and expectant position of the cat is exactly right. I like this painting: The Old Woman and the Cat (Akka ja kissa).

The picture is in the public domain and the photo published under Wikimedia Commons.

From The Old Woman and the Cat (Akka ja kissa) to Cats in Paintings

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The Old Woman and the Cat (Akka ja kissa)

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Sep 03, 2009Your right Finn
by: Michael

He put the cat in afterwards so you are right. But I hadn’t thought that she might be begging. She was a sheep farmer but she certainly does not really look like she is feeding a cat. So yes, there are some questions there.

Sep 02, 2009Maybe the cat wasn’t there
by: Finn Frode I’m not at all sure there was a cat, when Gallen-Kallela first painted the woman. With her head lowered and hand stretched out, she might just as well be begging. Maybe that subject was too cruel for the public, so the cat was added and the picture became more acceptable.

But it’s a wonderful picture anyhow – thanks a lot for directing my attention to this great artist.

Sep 02, 2009superior knowledge …not moi
by: Ruth Only my opinion and thoughts Michael,it’s the way she has her other hand protectively on her bump that made me think she was pregnant ….I’m probably totally wrong lol
We CP siblings have no superior knowledge over each other and I do love interesting subjects like the ones you always post.

Sep 02, 2009I submit
by: Michael I accept a women’s superior knowledge on this subject:) Thanks Ruth. I am sure you are right as she is probably in her 40s or something as people in those days aged faster and lived shorter lives.

Sep 02, 2009Old lady ?
by: Ruth Her hair is still dark so it’s as if her face and body are older than her years as you’d think she’d be grey haired if she’s old ? Women had babies as late as in their 50s in days gone by.


Sep 02, 2009I think you are right
by: Michael Ruth, I think you are spot on. And yes she does look pregnant! But I didn’t think she was pregnant. I just thought it was part of old age. I think she is too old to be pregnant! Is this a cat site?

Ruth, thanks for your comment.

Sep 02, 2009Interesting
by: Ruth What an interesting painting this is ! Yes the posture of the cat is spot on but not the markings,maybe the painter saw a cat watching a mouse and captured its posture in his mind ? The old lady seems to be pregnant so may not be as old as she looks.I have a photo of my gran who died aged only 57 but in the photo she looks in her seventies, because she had a very hard life.
I think this lady had a very hard life too.
Only my thoughts, I’m no art critic so am probably totally wrong !

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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